"This is not my idea of laid back," says Dalkin, sprawled in a dentist's chair beneath a beam of bright white light. "I think I got a cavity, doc."
"Let's take a look." Dr. Gurliacci picks and probes.
"It's a deep one," says the dentist. "I'm going to need an x-ray to see what's going on."
Yeah, right. Crank up the tab.
A technician does her thing.
Ten minutes later Gurliacci returns. "Hmmm. As I thought. You see this mass here?"
Dalkin looks at the black and white x-ray plate. "I see a tooth in various grays."
"That's right," says Dr. Gurliacci. "Various grays mean that decay has reached the nerve. You're probably going to need a root canal."
"You mean I get to be tortured and pay actual fucking cash—blow me—for the privilege?"
"Don't you have insurance?" Gurliacci is probing again.
"You kidding?" Dalkin gagged. "I work for myself, which, in Blue Cross-speak, means: You're screwed, buster."
"I can refer you to a root canal specialist," says Gurliacci.
"You can't do it yourself?"
Anyone who calls themselves specialist charges double.
"Sometimes. But not this tooth. It's a large molar."
"Then just yank the sucker and I’ll shove it under my pillow."
Gurliacci shakes his head. "Extractions cause other problems. Your bite. Shifting."
"What if I don't do anything?"
"It'll get worse," says Gurliacci. "I've seen hardened men reduced to tears. If the pus from an abscess gets into the jawbone..." he shakes his head. "It's not pretty."
Jeff Dalkin does not like not pretty. Isn't that why he moved to Santa Barbara? The problem is, nobody in this neighborhood has any problems. Because problems had been replaced by metaphysical issues.
The best Dalkin could do—after four months of letting it be known that he could investigate anything, anywhere, anyhow—the best he could do was Arthur Toady. And what did Art Toady, the Howard Hughes of toys, want him to do?
Yeah, right—just another missing person.
And it sure didn't seem like old Beelzebub was hanging on the American Riviera, a blessed coastline of Pacific waves, charming vistas, ideal climate. Not to mention abundance.
Real problems were so nonexistent, the populace had evolved to imaginary ones and had become addicted to plastic surgeons, therapists, faith healers and channels.
Dalkin has a thought: Maybe Satan is hanging on Butterfly Beach, plotting a major earthquake and tsunami?
His next thought is to call…
This is Harvey Kimbach, legendary spook with the finest spy-net around.
"You're back from California already?"
Negative," says Dalkin. "I'm finished with Washington—wanking willies."
"And I see California hasn't cured your Tourette’s?"
"Who says I'm looking for a cure," snaps Dalkin. "It's everyone else's problem, not mine. Listen, I got a question: Know where I can find Satan?"
"Used to be Beirut," says Kimbach. "He got bored. Last I heard, Baghdad, though you might try Pyongyang."
"I'm not going to Pyongyang—petrified pukes!" Dalkin mutters. "Can you get a file on him?"
"On Satan? Have you lost your mind out there? Wouldn't surprise me. We don't do X-files."
"Look, I finally found a rich client—dumb mutherfuck. I can't help if the issues in California are different. I'm just trying to determine if CIA—anal ass-wipes—ever did a study on Satan."
"Maybe if Pat Robertson had been elected president," says Kimbach. "But he wasn't, thank God. If you're serious, call him. Or one of those TV evangelists. Those guys see Satan under their beds."
Dalkin contemplates such calls when his phone whistles. "Yeah-what?"
It’s Ronald M. Schvantz, the dataveillant. Is Dalkin serious about locating the devil?
"I talked to Nuts-and-bolts about it," says Schvantz.
"My limey dick."
"Cute," says Schvantz. "Nuts-and-bolts worked on a case involving satanic cults, you know, devil worship? He says his client was obsessed with eradicating Satanism."
"Is this a joke?"
"Limeys are a joke," says Schvantz. "And the micks are even worse. They're always at the pub, sloshing in the urinals, farting in the background when they yak data at me over their cell phones."
"Okay, let me have some names and numbers."
"That is not correct. I need brazhort for my services."
"Fuck-nuts. You want money for a referral?"
"That is correct."